Measuring Peace: the Everyday Peace Indicators Project

One of the challenges of measuring peace resides in the different narratives that underlie the very methodologies used to capture ‘peace’, including the selection of specific indicators. As much as global indicators aim to find a common pattern of variables in order to compare a large number of countries, they also tend to lose touch with the base, the ordinary people who are the subjects of peace.

The Everyday Peace Indicators project was designed precisely with the intent to provide an alternative narrative regarding the state of peace in post-violent conflict societies. In the words of Mac Ginty and Firchow (2016: 7), who coordinate the project, the EPI “begins with wariness that outside actors can ever fully understand the experiences of others”. The alternative they provide is, thus, to work so that the indicators of peace are constructed by the communities themselves, from the bottom-up, instead of being previously chosen by the researcher.

Methodologically, this involves the challenging task of combining research techniques that may provide both depth as well as breadth. The depth comes from the initial approach to the communities: the EPI relies on partner NGOs that operate locally, providing, therefore the cultural sensitivity that could be absent in the case of a foreign researcher unfamiliar with local dynamics. Initially these actors conduct focus groups with localities in both urban and rural areas, in order to elaborate a list of indicators of peace. This list is then verified in another focus group and only then it is used in order to create a survey. The survey addresses the breadth dimension of the research. It is conducted either face-to-face or via mobile phone, which allows to reach communities which would, otherwise, be left out from the research (Mac Ginty & Firchow, 2014). This, in turn, makes the research more representative.

The EPI is described as an experimental project and has been operational in four countries: South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The results so far have shown that, overall, local actors feel a higher degree of freedom to externalise their own frameworks of peace and what really matters to them, instead of trying to correspond to the expectations of international actors and their own measures of peace (Mac Ginty & Firchow, 2014). So, for instance, in South Africa and northern Uganda, most concerns were related to crime in the community, as opposed to the long-term violent conflict that took place in these countries in the past.

Also, ‘unconventional’ indicators of peace and security emerged from the focus groups that are extremely meaningful to local actors, even though they have never appeared in the lists of international agencies. For instance, the lack of barking dogs at night was perceived as an indicator that no thieves were around. Other indicators reflected everyday concerns, such as ‘being able to send children at school’ or ‘being able to walk freely at night’, as well as ‘being free to worship any religion one wants’ (Mac Ginty & Firchow, 2016).

For those who have done fieldwork in post-violent conflict settings, some of these indicators may seem no surprise. In my own research in Mozambique, I came across similar indicators, although I never used the term ‘indicator’. Instead, I referred to ‘perceptions of peace’. In this regard, it is interesting to note that some indicators, whilst ‘unconventional’ (in the sense that they were not predetermined by a Western academic/analyst) are common to different settings.

Overall, the EPI project is an important initiative to help us step out of the box of conventional and dominant ways of measuring peace. Pushed by its emancipatory drive, the EPI has been able to contrast the different narratives that shape ‘bottom-up’ versus ‘top-down’ narratives, which is something crucial if we researchers want to fully understand local dynamics of peace and how international actors may more efficiently contribute to consolidate peace in post-violent conflict settings. The attempt to merge surveys with qualitative in depth analysis further responds to critiques of the ‘local turn’ in peacebuilding and the need to move beyond single case studies and contribute to generalizations by providing more ‘robust’ results (Autesserre, 2014).

That said, the project also presents several challenges. Perhaps the most obvious is related to the costs of expanding the project to a larger number of countries. This goes in tandem with the breath of the project and another aspect that is no quite clear: are these indicators supposed to constitute a global scale of peace or is the project’s aim to compare a reduced number of countries that came out of violent conflict? Methodologically, it is not clear yet the extent to which the indicators are comparable. So far it is clear the potential of the project in comparing narratives (top-down vs. bottom-up) but it is far less clear how we may compare indicators across countries. Since the indicators are generated endogenously, what if they are different? How could we compare peace between different countries from a localised perspective?

An additional challenge is the consideration that more than one narrative of peace may exist in the same locality. In my experience researching Mozambique, not only was there a very different peace narrative between local actors and international ones, but also, there was a different narrative between different kinds of local actors, especially between the organised civil society and rural communities (see article where I discuss this here). Even within communities it may be the case that women and the youth, for example, have very different perspectives about peace. More generally, it seems at least very challenging to think of an appropriate way to satisfy the demands of more localised ethnographic research with those of positivistic and statistical approaches. Yet, I personally welcome any attempt to challenge methodological conventions, especially when the aim is to capture voices that are mostly unheard.

References

Autesserre, Severine (2014). Going Micro: Emerging and Future Peacekeeping Research, International Peacekeeping, 21:4, 492-500

Mac Ginty, R. (2013). Taking anecdotal evidence seriously: An alternative view of peace indicators. Shared Space: A research journal on peace, conflict and community relations in Northern Ireland, 16: 21-36.

Mac Ginty, R.; Firchow, P. (2014) Everyday peace indicators: capturing local voices through surveys. Shared Space: A research journal on peace, conflict and community relations in Northern Ireland, 18, 33-39.

Mac Ginty, Roger; Firchow, Pamina (2016) Top-down and bottom-up narratives of peace and conflict. Politics, 36(3), 1-16.

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